Literary Techniques

Summer at the Lake is divided into seven major sections, six of which bear titles that mark the progress of summer. Sometimes the dates are called by their secular names, sometimes by names that mark a Catholic feast, and sometimes by both their secular and sacred designations. Epigraphs at the beginning of each segment express the thoughts of various writers about summer and also represent a cross-section of the sacred and the secular.

Within the major divisions of "Prologue," "Memorial Day/Pentecost," "St. John's Night," "Fourth of July," "Mary's Day in Harvest Time," "Labor Day," and "The Feast of St. Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and all the other Angels," the narratives are again divided between a focus on the year 1948 (the summer when the world as the main characters knew it began to disintegrate) and 1978, the year of the half century of their births. In "Fourth of July," the time jumps to other years as well. Like a fireworks display, this section makes a total of eleven bursts in time and adds further exposition to the historical, social, and economic changes that seared the main characters' lives.

Within this division by years, there is yet another subdivision. The story is told by three separate narrators—Leo Kelly, Fr. Packy Keenan, and Jane Devlin Clare. Sometimes their narratives are interior monologues. Sometimes they are first person narrators of a scenario. Jane's narratives switch halfway through the novel from first-person memoirs to third person omniscient point of view, reflecting her growing ability as a writer to fictionalize the past and distance herself and others from it.

Ideas for Group Discussions

A reader needs to be neither Catholic nor Irish to form strong opinions concerning Andrew Greeley's novels. Discussions can center around both the manner of his storytelling and the content he presents. Because of this, they can serve as excellent exercises in how various and often opposing literary opinions can be formed, and whether or not they are supported by valid or invalid evidence. And because so much of what he

writes is drawn from his own research, Greeley can also serve as a springboard from fiction into other genres. The seeds of his novels can be found in many of his sociological and theological books as well as in his poetry and personal journals. In many cases, actual scenes from the novels can be traced quite directly to passages in his other writings. "Fiction is the best way of getting . . . insights through the secular barriers into general culture," he has said. Greeley's works can provoke an interesting debate about why a writer whose works are grounded in the empirical data he uncovers might be called unrealistic by critics.

1. Focus on how the novel details traditional elements of Catholic belief and list some things that formed the pasts of the three main characters. What elements are altered in the thirty years of their maturity? What beliefs remain the same?

2. Discuss what Fr. Packy means when he advocates the practice of "selective Catholicism." In what ways do Jane, Leo, and Packy begin to practice this? How does this alter their lives for better or worse? What is your personal reaction to this Greeley viewpoint?

3. Catholicism has traditionally been marked by two distinctive features: a ban on artificial birth control and a ban on divorce. How does the novel reconcile modern lifestyles with these two issues? How does Greeley alleviate Catholic guilt about violating these Catholic prescriptions?

4. Why, toward the end of the novel, do Jane and Leo still feel that there...

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Social Concerns

Summer at the Lake is the first novel of a S trilogy in which Andrew Greeley traces the history of Chicago Irish Catholics from Armistice Day, 1918 to the present. Like most of Greeley's other novels, the major social concerns are reflections of his own social scientific research (see the biographical entry).

Most broadly, the novel deals with the struggle to make sense of the past and the social changes that seem to have erased its significance. The novel is told from the points of view of three characters: Leo Kelly, Provost and professor of political science at a premier research university in Chicago; Patrick ("Packy") Keenan, a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago; and Jane Devlin Clare, the woman both men loved as youths.

On the simplest plot level, the past poses questions and a mystery that Leo Kelly, the focal character, intends to solve. During the summer of 1948, a car accident killed two of his friends. Although he heroically saved a third from the flames, police dragged Kelly from the scene because they thought he might have been the driver.

The victims were from rich families who lived in grand summer homes at a lake retreat that was becoming a playground for wealthy Chicagoans. Kelly was a middle-class outsider whose parents did not own property in the community. He had the use of Packy Keenan's vehicle that summer and had seen to the repair of its faulty brakes the previous day. He has always wondered why the police tried so hard to implicate him and why the brakes failed when he had been assured of their repair. Why was there a box filled with counterfeit money in the trunk? And what happened to it? If Kelly had not rescued Phil Clare that fateful day, then he would have saved Jane Devlin from the unhappy marriage she later contracted with Phil. Is it possible for Leo and Jane to put failed marriages behind them and rekindle their youthful love for one another?

On another level, the past serves as the subject of scholarly study for Kelly. As a political scientist, it is Kelly's job, he says, "to analyze." His book The Big Change argued that "the era after 1965 was the logical outcome of the enormous social and economic changes in the 'postwar era.'" Society as it had been known completely disintegrated. Education rather than inherited wealth...

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Literary Precedents

The literary precedents are those alluded to in the novel itself: Marcel Proust, F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce have dealt with the past, the careless nouveau rich, and the delights of sensuality respectively. There is also a resonance of Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again (1940). Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (1949) takes a hard look at his past. So does Shakespeare's King Lear. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet face the same family conflicts that originally keep Leo and Jane apart. Not all these works take the optimistic view that there is a destiny that controls our lives, however roughhewn they may seem. This is the theme that distinguishes Greeley's fiction.

Greeley's novel also incorporates many conventions of best-selling romances. There is a strong but sensitive hero, a heroine who needs salvation, and an impediment that keeps them apart. The story is sprinkled with incremental scenes of sexuality and ends happily. Jane Devlin alludes at least twice to the novels of Anthony Trollope, noting his skill at creating sexual tension without ever detailing sexual intercourse. Had Greeley managed this feat (as he has in several of his novels), Summer at the Lake might have resembled Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (1847; see separate entry). Readers can only wonder at his intentions when he christened the female character.

Related Titles

In the series of novels known by the collective tide The Time Between the Stars, Greeley created characters from three different families who appear in major and minor roles throughout the series (see the biographical entry and the entries on The Patience of a Saint and Fall From Grace).

Summer at the Lake is the first novel in a proposed trilogy of stories. The protagonist of the second novel, A Midwinter's Tale (1998), is Chuck O'Malley, who makes a brief appearance in the summer tale. His story is set in Germany immediately after World War II, and O'Malley is caught up in the corruption and comedy of the Army of Occupation only six months after graduation from high school. In the final novel, Younger Than Springtime (1999), O'Malley pursues a college education and discovers his true vocation as a photographer. Along the way, he also discovers true love.

Some characters in Summer at the Lake have appeared in earlier Greeley novels. The Search for Maggie Ward (1991) details the story of how Jerry Keenan (brother of Fr. Packy) met and married his wife, a waif from Philadelphia who suffered an abusive first marriage. Maggie Ward Keenan "keeps coming back," says Greeley. "The characters who come back are usually ones that I am familiar with, and it is easier and more fun to use them instead of creating new ones."

Greeley sees Maggie as "a kind of Chorus" in his novels. She is one of the few characters who is not a native Chicagoan. In addition, she is both a psychoanalytical psychologist and what the Irish call "fey"—possessed with the intuitive power to see what others cannot. She is, therefore, useful when other characters need direction or cannot see things for themselves. .Greeley admits that he often outfits her in grey because "Perhaps, given her past, it is a kind of armor." Jerry and Maggie's son, Jamie, is a priest who appears in several novels and has a major role in The Cardinal Virtues.


Summer at the Lake has been adapted for two audio cassettes. One is full length (840 minutes); the other is an abridged version (180 minutes).